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Dog and Treats

This is a subjectwhich seems to get a lot of people hot under the collar.

There are those whosay that treats should always be used – or your dog will do nothing for you,and those who say quite the opposite – which is that treats are merely a bribe  or a distraction, the dog will focus on the treat, not the person holding the  treat, your dog should do as you ask without bribery. 

I say that both (and  neither) are entirely correct.

Why not use whatever  works for the individual dog, in the individual circumstance?

For puppies, and for  adult dogs which have been re-homed whether because of abusive owners, or simplyowners who can no longer take care of them, food is the single biggest tool to  establish that you can be trusted as a good person to be with. 

In both cases the dog  does not know you.  Trust must be  established, and the quickest way to a dog’s heart is usually through its  stomach.   Food is vital for survival,and the person giving the food is immediately identified as someone of  interest.

Every situation is different.  A dog which (for good reason)is terrified of  humans is not going to go to you simply because you have  food.  However if you simply throw food a   little distance from you and by degrees closer, then do nothing else for  however long it takes, the dog will gradually feel reassured that this is not atrap.  Hands on at this stage will see  him running for the hills – food is less important than getting away from the  dreaded   human.  In time by very gentle  stages you will be able to touch this dog, and eventually gain his trust – but  this is much more because of the way you are with him, than because you have  given him food.  The food was just the  first  step in establishing contact.

For puppies it is  different.  They should have no fear of  humans, so praise for every small compliance TOGETHER with a treat, is far more  effective than praise alone.  However itis very important to get the timing right – the praise and treat should always  come after the compliance, not simply as a lure.  The puppy needs to understand that this is a  reward, not a bribe, and this is where there is a danger of over-treating, so  that the focus is purely on the food in your hand – not the person who isholding it.  This creates a dog which  knows the cues, performs for the treat, and has little connection to the person  holding it.  

So I believe that just  being with your puppy, or adult rescue dog, making yourself the person who is  the very best person to follow and be with, is the first step – and you shouldtake your time establishing this BEFORE any formal ‘training’ takes place.  A puppy, or an adult dog which has only  recently come to your home, who learns by your treatment of him to follow you  without being told to do so, who stays with you when you stop, who comes to you  because he wants to be with you, is already halfway to being ‘trained’ without  any commands at all – he has already learned this in a very natural way.  He has been allowed to make his own goodchoices, and is already on his way to becoming a thinking dog – not a trickpony..

Once mutual trust,respect and loving connection have been established, I believe that treats  should be phased out.  This is the time  when your dog should WANT to please you because your praise and obvious  pleasure in his compliance should fill his soul with joy, and this is all he  needs.  If you need a treat for any ofthe basics at this stage, you have not done your job well.   If you want to test this, try stopping yourdog from racing after something he should not, by dangling a treat – I  guarantee the interest in something new and exciting will trump the food inyour hand every time.  This is when youknow that the treats have taken over.

Once I have really  good connection with my dog, perfect recall, walking with me when I ask,waiting when I ask, and most importantly the knowledge that he is connected tome even when he is some distance away (and you will know this when your dog  shows that he is aware of exactly where you are at all times, and is ready to  stop what he is doing to follow you without being told), and also that he has  become a dog I can take anywhere, and will behave in a socially acceptable way with both humans and other dogs,because in any confusing human situation he will look to me to guide him, so  remains calm and unworried by anything the world can come up with, and he haslearned canine etiquette either with my guidance, or simply from interacting  with other carefully chosen dogs, I feel that I am ‘there’.  This  is all I require from my dogs – and this  is where ‘training’ stops for me.

If you want more from  your dog – tricks, agility, or any of the advanced disciplines – then treats  can be brought back in, and are very useful initially as an aid for more  complicated requests.  However I still  feel that these should only be necessary until your dog understands what you  require of him.  After that praise and  enthusiastically demonstrated approval should be enough.  So, would I give a treat at the end of a  complicated man-oeuvre?   Of course I  would!  The dog ‘done well’ - so why  not?!

So, (for me at least),there is a place for treats, and a place for ditching the treats.  There is no right or wrong if each is used atthe right time, in the right context, and with understanding of exactly why youare giving it.

By Lesley Harris

Co Author "Parenting  Your New  Puppy”

DECEMBER 7TH, 2017 @ 11:12:24 UTC


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